Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Ian McKellen, Lynn Redgrave
Bill Condon's James Whale biopic does full justice to the curious life and times of its subject: a gay kid from Dudley who went to Hollywood, directed a rash of horror classics (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man) then fell down and out in Beverly Hills. The multi- tiered Gods and Monsters casts out from the California mansion where film- maker (Ian McKellen) is ogling his beefcake gardener (Brendan Fraser) to take in a weave of flashbacks and filmic references. It's careful, clever handling leaves McKellen's resonant performance room to manoeuvre.
AN AUTUMN TALE (U)
Director: Eric Rohmer
Starring: Beatrice Romand, Alain Libolt
The final part of Rohmer's Tales of the Four Seasons is at once airily elegiac and as warm as sunshine. Magali (Beatrice Romand) - middle-aged and single - gets ushered through all manner of hoops as her friends try to set her up with eligible men, nudging her first towards suave college professor (Didier Sandre), then towards a lonely-hearts respondent (the brilliant Alain Libolt) as the web of intrigue turns progressively more tangled. Don't be put off by the Mills and Boon plot-line. Rohmer's latest is a veritable masterpiece of dabbed-on colours, fluid squiggles, and luminous washes. Its little gestures speak volumes. Its easy soul takes the breath away.
AMERICAN HISTORY X (18)
Director: Tony Kaye
Starring: Edward Norton, Edward Furlong
Disowned by its director, re-edited by its star, American History X was always going to look messy; a film in bits and pieces. A liberal essay on right-wing fanaticism, this nonetheless indulges in some dubious Nazi chic as it charts the moral slide and spasmodic conversion of a blue-collar racist (Edward Norton); watched by his adoring younger brother. The flashbacks sometimes jar, and the plot turns are clankingly handled. What binds it together is a genuine tour-de-force from Oscar-nominated Norton, whose full-throttle muscularity clearly scared wavering Academy members over to the more sunny charms of Roberto Benigni.
Director: Brian Helgeland
Starring: Mel Gibson
Revisiting the same source novel (Richard Stark's The Hunter) that inspired John Boorman's Point Blank, this rumbling revenge thriller sends its double- crossed-and-left-for-dead anti-hero (Mel Gibson) on a mission to retrieve the money he's owed, and get even into the bargain. The ensuing shenanigans are played out in a kind of retro-chic Seventies and underpinned by a busy jazz-funk soundtrack. Ambling through the saga, Gibson affects a bully's slouch and a thousand-yard stare; rubbing lots of designer grime into his clean-cut screen image.
MIGHTY JOE (12)
Director: Ron Underwood
Starring: Bill Paxton, Charlie Theron
Mighty Joe is a mutant gorilla, King Kong with a smile, who hangs out in the jungles of Africa with his Tarzan-type protector (Charlie Theron, looking like she's auditioning for the Lynx commercial). Enter zoologist Bill Paxton, who decides to spirit Joe to California, at which point Ron Underwood's holiday daintee diverts down standard chase-genre avenues. The whole thing is disposable Disney fluff, yet it boasts a ready charm that's hard to dislike.
THE RUGRATS MOVIE (U)
Director: Igor Kovalyov
Voices: E G Daily, Christine Cavanaugh
Given the small-screen success of the 'rats (cartoon toddlers up to no good), a feature-length foray was always in the offing. Neatly timed to hit the Easter hols, The Rugrats Movie tosses in a new character in the baby brother of chief 'rat Tommy Pickles and shifts its horizons beyond the usual suburban homes and gardens. Here, the bairns find themselves adrift in a deep dark forest, bonding with monkeys and tangling with a slavering wolf. Kids, no doubt, will eat this up. Adults should simply grin and bear it.